The Mountain Communities Initiative (MCI) was a project of the ISE Global Coalition for Biocultural Diversity, The Indigenous Peoples Biocultural Climate Change Assessment (IPCCA) of Asociación ANDES and IIED. It promoted horizontal networking among indigenous and local communities at the local, regional and international level. The initiative fostered new alliances and forms of cooperation between indigenous mountain peoples living in climate prone biocultural systems and scientists, policy makers and other actors interested in supporting indigenous peoples’ struggles.

The MCI was conceived during the 2012 ISE Congress in Montpellier and consisted of 14 mountain communities from Asia, Oceania and Latin America; it provided a platform for exchange around climate change and food futures, particularly focusing on the role of traditional food and agricultural systems for the food security of the world.

Three themes guided the efforts of the MCI:

1. the different challenges communities face to the integrity of their food systems (climatic, ecological, socio-economic and political) and the ways in which they may respond, collectively and collaboratively;

2. the cultural and political dimensions of traditional food systems and the role they play in shaping the way communities organize. In the face of the continuous contestation of the rights, territories and identity of many indigenous communities, the MCI considered the efforts that were and could be undertaken to strengthen communities’ organization through the cultural and political values of food;

3. seeds, crops, and the agricultural practices that nourish them are fundamental elements of indigenous identity, and increasingly endangered by climate change. We explored possibilities that existed and could be created for (international) community-to-community exchanges of food crops and the knowledge to grow them.

In the last week of May 2014, 50 farmers representing the communities in the MCI network came together for a foundational workshop in Bhutan. They were hosted by the communities of Jangbi, Wangling and Ura. Together, they spoke about how the MCI should evolve so that it could best assist communities in meeting the challenges described above. This included a discussion about the need for and feasibility of establishing an ongoing network of exchange and cooperation among communities concerned with defending their traditional food and agricultural systems.

During the workshop, the network developed  the “Bhutan Declaration on Climate Change and Mountain Indigenous Peoples.”  The Declaration calls on governments to support adaptation based on traditional knowledge that is specific to local contexts, and to respect indigenous peoples’ world views and cultural and spiritual values that lie at the heart of their adaptive capacity.

For the ISE Global Coalition, facilitating the Mountain Communities Initiative was an opportunity to reflect on and strengthen its role as a platform where community voices could be articulated and brought into wider policy and advocacy fora. As future ISE Congresses move across the globe, this role might expand in response to the themes and needs relevant to communities at the Congress location.

The farmers participating in the workshop in May shared their findings during a half-day session at the ISE Congress in Bumthang, with the aim of opening a conversation with the wider congress community.

The Mountain Communities Initiative is supported by The Christensen Fund and IIED’s SIFOR project which is funded by the European Union and UK Aid. Financial support is also provided by First Peoples Worldwide, UNDP, Taipei Medical University, and the IPCCA.